By Hilary White

OTTAWA, December 17, 2007 ( – The Supreme Court of Canada has ordered a man to pay damages for failing to provide his former wife with a Jewish writ of divorce, or ghet, a purely religious matter with no connection to Canada’s civil law. According to a report from Brian Lilley of CFRB radio news, the ruling may have an impact on other religious groups in Canada.

The case has been pending since a Montreal woman petitioned the Supreme Court in 2006 to uphold a lower court decision awarding her damages after her ex-husband refused to provide her with the ghet. Stephanie Bruker and Jason Marcovitz were married in 1969 and when they divorced in 1980, part of the legal settlement included a promise by Marcovitz that he would provide a ghet.

Lilley quotes Peter Vere, a Catholic canon lawyer, who pointed to the danger of secular courts involving themselves in the internal matters of religious groups. Vere warned that “this decision could impose itself on the conscience of the individual or fine an individual for something they hold in good conscience. It is never a good thing when the courts try and legislate creed.” 

Vere cited cases in which Catholics contend in ecclesiastical courts over annulments and others in which religious freedom plays a part in conversions. Under some interpretations of Muslim Sharia Law, a person who leaves Islam for another religion is liable to the severest penalties.

The dissenting opinion was penned by Justice Marie Deschamps who wrote, “In addition, the assessment of damages would require the court to implement a rule of religious law that is not within its jurisdiction and that violates the secular law it is constitutionally responsible for applying.” reported in 2006 that the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled that although the pre-nuptial agreement that included the promise of the ghet had been signed, the federal Divorce Act does not give courts jurisdiction to force anyone to issue any purely religious decree. Bruker had sued Marcovitz successfully in the lower courts, being awarded $47,500 plus interest going back to 1995.

Bruker’s lawyer, Alan Stein, said in 2006, when the Supreme Court agreed to hear his wife’s request to uphold the lower court’s ruling, that the Court’s ruling will have far-reaching consequences for all Canadians, because it will affect the validity of any agreement of a religious or moral nature.

Read related coverage:

Canada Supreme Court to Consider Interfering With Religion – Jewish Divorce Proceedings

Read Brian Lilly’s coverage for CFRB: